Thomas Friedman’s Flatter World

Last year’s first Westmont President’s Breakfast was an 800-participant waiting-list-only sold-out affair that featured an enormously engrossing talk by a polished and articulate master. Author-historian David McCullough was serendipitously chosen as the first speaker in what Westmont administrators plan as a yearly high-profile event. Former Secretary of Education and best-selling author William Bennett was to have been the inaugural speaker, but he delayed the breakfast (in 2004), then cancelled completely, forcing Westmont officials to refund the ticket price to many would-be attendees.

All’s well that continues well, however, and this year’s speaker – three-time Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times columnist and author (“The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century”) Thomas L. Friedman – promises to be every bit as informative, entertaining, and compelling as Mr. McCullough. Mr. Friedman’s theme is “The World is Flat: Speaking on the Next Phase of Globalization,” and the talk begins at 8 am (breakfast at 7 am) on Wednesday, February 28, in the Grand Ballroom at Fess Parker’s. Tickets are $75 per person (includes breakfast), and the likelihood of another sold-out affair is strong.

If you’d like to attend, you should call 565-6895 anytime after 8 am Friday, January 26.

Fast End To Slow Food

You probably haven’t followed this unless you either live in San Francisco or visit there often, but there has been an ongoing correspondence in the San Francisco Chronicle about the dearth of moderately priced restaurants in that one-time gustatory Mecca. Restaurants in the city by the bay are apparently being gouged so badly by city officials that many are closing and chefs are choosing to relocate outside the city limits to avoid things like: a $951 initial restaurant tax ($758 renewal license tax), $244 yearly valet license, $352 yearly Place of Entertainment tax, a yearly $200 candle, $146 propane, and $146 tent tax, among other indignities. Restaurant permits go for from $28,000 to $60,000 and more. More recently, the City Council has mandated restaurants provide nine days sick leave per year. The city’s $9.14 inflation-adjusted minimum wage goes to waiters as well as dishwashers, and crimps a restaurant owner’s ability to pay more for kitchen help, while enriching the dining room staff, many of whom already take home $50,000 a year and often much more. In New York, waiters get by on $4.30 an hour (before tips, naturally), and even less in Florida, where the prevailing pre-tip wage is $2.58.

The San Francisco County Board of Supervisors is about to mandate an additional huge levy – universal health care – that will probably nail the coffin shut on all but the highest-end eateries and lowest-end fast-food outlets. We bring this up because a similar trend is taking shape in Santa Barbara, where – in case you haven’t noticed – entrée prices have skyrocketed. The push for a “living wage,” sidewalk “chair taxes,” yearly “parking” fees and more are beginning to make owning and/or running a restaurant a decidedly more risky venture than it already is in Santa Barbara too.

Expect more restaurant closings and less openings as the Santa Barbara City Council searches for more tax revenue and zeroes in on the local restaurant world.

Keeping Up With Carole

Erstwhile Montecito resident Carole Lieff spends most of her time in Los Angeles these days, but continues to maintain a rather large estate locally. Carole is both a collector and dealer in photography and travels the world viewing and often buying photographs for herself and her clients. Most recently, she attended Paris Photo in November, which she calls “the gold standard for photography shows” and which attracted some 50,000 attendees (in late 2006). In December, she traveled to Miami for the Art Show. She reported both events in her humorous and completely irreverent newsletter that is not only fun to read but is also an authoritative take on the art market.

What did she buy in Paris? Photographs by Tomoko Sawada, a young Japanese artist “who does what appear to be diminutive class pictures, you know the kind where everyone sits in the little rows, and these girls are all in tidy school uniforms...but...they all have the same face!” Michael Wolf was another buy: [He] takes photographs of Chinese painting counterfeiters (the counterfeits are really good, food for thought in this nutty market).” Other photographers she zeroed in on include Merry Alpern, Saul Leiter (“ART & AUCTION recently called Leiter one of the undervalued photographers on the market”), Evelyn Hofer, Salide (“I think both he and Seydou Keita are terrific and will prove to be good investments”), and Edward Ruscha. Other notables include Mexican photographer Antonio Caballero and John Baldessari.

Carole reviewed the recent New York Contemporary Auctions of the week of November 12, reporting that Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale totaled $125.1 million, followed by $239.7 million at Christie’s the next day, “the highest total ever achieved in a contemporary art sale.” Big prices included Francis Bacon's “Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe (1968)” for $15 million, and a 1977 de Kooning for $10.65 million.

Lieff reported that “Three Warhol pictures exceeded $14 million each – first the 1972 portrait of Chairman Mao, which sold for $17.37 million, then Orange Marilyn (1962) which brought $16.25 million, and then Sixteen Jackies (1964), making $15.69 million.”

She called it “a monster week for art,” and for those of us not in the market, we can at least remember the last time the art market went ballistic was 1987 – just before the big stock market crash.

See, we’ve already run out of space and don’t have room for her Miami musings: “Now, it is not lost on me that some people like to go to Miami. I realize,” she writes, “that some people actually enjoy Miami. And there are even people who like to live in Miami. But I, for the life of me, can't figure out why.”

Carole then describes in less than flattering terms the hotels, restaurants, clubs, and other dives in Miami. Her take on the art show itself? “The Warhols were priced at altitudes dangerous even for those with their own oxygen tanks. For example, I saw one picture that I was offered last week for $750,000 priced at $1.2 million. A little 16-inch-by-20-inch black and white Puma shoe was at $125,000. A month ago I could have bought one of these for $75,000. And I didn't.”

To read more and keep up with the art/photograph market while having a good informed laugh, go to carolelieff.com.